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Thai PM offers to dissolve parliament in September


THAILAND’S prime minister yesterday said that he would dissolve Parliament in September, paving the way for new elections demanded by anti-government protesters if they end their crippling occupation of Bangkok’s commercial district.
But in a sign of the deep mistrust between the opposing sides, the demonstrators, according to the Associated Press (AP) said they would not go home until the government made its promise official and specified a date for the legislature’s dissolution.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Monday unveiled a roadmap to reconciliation that included an offer of new elections on November 14 – about a year before his term would end – if they pulled out of their barricaded encampment in the heart of the Thai capital.

Leaders of the anti-government movement, known as the Red Shirts, welcomed that plan, which takes into account the protesters’ main grievances. It includes respect for the monarchy, reforms to resolve economic injustice, free but responsible media to be overseen by an independent watchdog agency, independent investigations of violent incidents connected with the protests, and amendment of the constitution to be more fair to all political parties.

The Red Shirts, who draw most of their supporters from Thailand’s rural and urban poor, view Abhisit’s government as a symbol of an elite impervious to their plight. They say he rose to power illegitimately through back-room deals and military pressure on legislators.

The nearly two-month standoff in Bangkok has paralyzed vital areas of the capital, hammered the economy, decimated the tourist industry and ground government machinery to a near halt. Clashes with soldiers and other violence have killed 27 people and injured nearly 1,000.

On Wednesday night, about 10,000 demonstrators packed a premier shopping district, which has been the centre of their encampment, said army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd. He said the crowd size has been on a “downward trend” after highs last month of several tens of thousands.

Abhisit is insisting on a total pullout.

“If they don’t go home, I’m not going to dissolve Parliament,” Abhisit said in a live interview on ASTV. Other Thai media quoted Abhisit as saying the dissolution could take place September 15 to 30.

“I repeat, I am not negotiating with anybody,” Abhisit said in the interview, but added he was inviting everyone into a reconciliation process, “including the protesters.”

Meanwhile, Red Shirt protest leaders demanded the opposite scenario.

“It’s impossible for protesters to disperse before the government announces the Parliament dissolution,” said Nattawut Saikua, a protest leader. “A mutual agreement needs to be reached first.”

The timing of the dissolution has been a crucial issue because a key reshuffle of top military posts scheduled for September. It’s not clear if a caretaker government, which would run the country after Parliament is dissolved, would be allowed to make the appointments.

Protest leaders say Abhisit’s proposal is too vague and they need clarity.

On Wednesday, Thais put aside their political animosity to honor the country’s ailing monarch on the 60th anniversary of his coronation, and his rare public appearance inspired thousands lining the streets to chant “Long Live the King!”

The highly revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej emerged in a wheelchair from a Bangkok hospital to preside over the ceremonies. The 82-year-old king, the world’s longest reigning monarch, has been hospitalized for the past nine months with what the palace initially described as a lung inflammation.

The monarch made no comment on the political stalemate. Many Thais had hoped the king, who ascended the throne in 1946 but was officially crowned on May 5, 1950, might broker a peaceful solution to the crisis, as he did in 1973 when he stopped bloodshed during a student uprising and again in 1992 during antimilitary street protests.

The protest group includes supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 military coup following accusations of corruption and abuse of power.

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